Imagine my disappointment when I found that, for the third year in a row, I had missed out on getting tickets to the World’s Longest Lunch, the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival’s annual signature opening event, this year promising courses by Jacques Reymond, Stefano de Pieri and Adam D’Sylva. The idea of sitting at a half-kilometre long table in the late-summer sunshine being served a delectable alfresco lunch with courses designed by some of the country’s most accomplished chefs not surprisingly excited and intrigued me. I kicked myself for not getting organised earlier, again, and vowed not to miss out next year.
If you’ve never heard of the Longest Lunch, the “longest” refers not to the time-frame of the meal (though it does tend to span the better part of the afternoon) but the length of the table – this year, over 530 metres of pristine white-tablecloth and 1504 charmingly mismatched chairs set along the Yarra river by Alexandra Park.
Let’s backtrack a little at this point.
Years ago, many people knowingly nodded when I informed them I was moving to Melbourne. “You’re just doing it for the food, aren’t you?”
I wasn’t, actually. Somehow, I’ve felt at home in this city since the first moment I set foot in it to visit a friend, and though I returned quite a few times before becoming a resident, I never gave much thought to “why” – when you find a true city soulmate, you plan to move there as fast as possible and don’t really overthink it. I guess if I were to name a few things I love, they would be the focus on culture and art, the beautiful historic buildings, the very old trams, the many events and enthusiastic way Melbournians take part in even the oddest ones, the boutique and outlet shopping, and yes, its world class dining and amazing things to eat on every budget.
So, before I digress any further, my point is – the World’s Longest Lunch is a perfect example of a very “Melbourne” thing, encompassing both the Melbournians’ love of slightly different events and the city’s rich epicurean culture.
My annoyance at missing out was pretty understandable.
Then… I received an unexpected email newsletter in early February from a website (Club Secure) I’d just used a couple of times. Before I could get annoyed at the spam, I saw that it contained exclusive ticketing offers for, among other things, the WLL event which had been sold out for weeks by that time. I snatched up a couple of tickets without delay and set out to find the ideal dining buddy.
The funny and charming Yen from theyennipenni channel ended up accompanying me on the day and we were both pretty excited by the prospect of a day of good food and interesting company.
After same taxi dramas, we arrived at the gardens breathless due to both anticipation and running late and were ushered towards the action by staff who handed us each goodie bags that included straw fedoras. Our places were a breeze to find as we were right down the very end of the table in seats 1501 and 1503. While we wouldn’t be in the “thick of the action”, we had an amazing view of the whole half kilometre of table.
Obligatory photos were taken and of the entire length of the table – or as much of it as we could fit in frame – to be Instagrammed, of course, and almost immediately afterwards we were engaged in friendly conversation by our immediate neighbours who turned out to be incredibly lovely and interesting people. In fact, we could not asked to be seated with better company. We seemed to have been lumped in with many people who worked in or were related to the industry.
The food that afternoon was a little bit of a letdown in terms of both dish execution and presentation – perhaps my expectations were simply so high due to the stellar reputations of the chefs involved that they couldn’t be reasonably met in such a setting, catering to so many guests!
First dish to table was smoked hiramasa kingfish, which turned out to be my favourite of the three courses, though I wouldn’t have guessed it at the time. The fish was a lovely, tender texture with a nice smoky flavour, however, some of the diners’ plates (including mine) were missing the tamarind sauce that was supposed to accompany the dish, while others had the sauce and assured us it worked well with the fish. I feel that failing to include an essential condiment was a fairly large oversight, though it was obviously through no fault of Adam D’Sylva’s.
The main was duck tucupi (“tucupi” being apparently a yellow sauce extracted from Brazilian manioc root), which was the dish designed by Jacques Reymond. There was a bit of a show involving the plate of duck and cute little glass bottles of hot broth being served separately, and the diners having to pour the broth over the poultry themselves. The broth was rich deeply flavourful, however, the duck itself wasn’t well cooked – the fat not having been fully rendered and the flesh somewhat chewy and overcooked.
I personally enjoyed De Pieri’s carrot cake dessert well enough, however, being very dense and moist but not particularly rich and indulgent it was not everyone’s cup of tea.
The service (provided by Peter Rowland Catering) throughout the afternoon was slightly brisk (understandably, with 1504 guests to wait on!) but still friendly and capable, and the staff were impeccably dressed in cute uniform. Conversation with our companions flowed beautifully and naturally and the long afternoon flew by in a blink even with long gaps between the three courses.
Wine was interchangeably poured by the staff or sitting in ice buckets at intervals along the table – not being a drinker at all, I’m not sure if this was preferable to full service, but from what I could tell it meant that those who came for mainly for food and company were able to better control their intake and those who wished to get a little tipsy could do so to their heart’s content.
As it approached 4pm and guests started dispersing, the afternoon ended with an optional boat ride up the river to Southbank and as it was a beautiful, sunny day, I jumped at this opportunity and spent the later afternoon walking along the river bank eating gelato.
All in all, the long lunch was a fabulous experience, thanks to the glorious weather, the relaxed atmosphere, the good-natured service and the amazing company.